Tapas grows up at Barrafina – a stylish little (and I mean little) tapas bar in Soho. The restaurant prides itself on “providing top quality Tapas, using the best ingredients we can find” – which sets the place apart from the multitude of sub-standard tapas restaurants springing up at shopping centres throughout the land.
Tapas is, let’s face it, a glorified bar snack, so for a restaurant to get it as absolutely right as Barrafina is truly commendable.
The restaurant has a no reservations policy so unless you arrive immediately after opening you may have to queue. This isn’t terribly strenuous though as drinks and starters are served as you move up the line. So distracted by the arrival of food was I that I almost forgot I was queuing at all (and I’m not usually one for patience). A word of warning though – if your party is any more than 2 or 3 you’ll be waiting an eternity.
Upon successfully reaching the front of the line diners are seated at a gleaming chrome bar. The decor is a little less authentic tapas bar of Espagnol and a little more 1950s American diner but once the food arrived all was forgotten. Much of the food is prepared in front of you on hot plates behind the bar which adds a fantastic touch of theatre to the experience. Atmosphere is important in a place like this and this tiny bar had a great buzz about it which I loved.
I’m told the food is authentic as can be found in London, akin to the proper tapas you may expect to find outside the tourist areas of Catalonia, but having never been to such places I am unable to confirm this claim. Let me say this though: the food truly is great.
To start (and whilst queuing) we tried three of the Spanish cold meats on offer: Salchichon, Chorizo Iberico and the Fuet de Catalunia. The meaty trio were of fine quality and definitely full of flavour, but I can’t say they really excited me. To be honest antipasti such as these are served everywhere and I can’t say I’ve ever had a particularly bad one.
Once we’d reached the sought after red leather stools we were presented with a paper menu as well as specials written on a blackboard. Fresh fish and seafood are displayed on ice behind the bar and proved popular options, most had sold out by the time my companion and I had descended from the bar.
We began by ordering a few random dishes from the menu: the octopus with capers, ham croquetas and a special of the day – Jerusalem artichoke.
The octopus really stole the show – it was expertly cooked and I’m glad to say there was none of that god awful battered elastic stuff in sight. Ham croquetas were deliciously creamy and most enjoyable yet not exceptionally interesting – they reminded me a little of a similar dish I’ve had at La Tasca and to me that’s not a good thing for a restaurant aspiring to be very much better.
Jerusalem artichokes fit the tapas bill well, they were nicely seasoned and a lovely accompaniment to the heartier offerings we’d ordered.
Things improved drastically with the arrival of a ribeye steak which was easily one of the best I’ve had in London. Garnishes of red pepper and blue cheese complemented the dish which (I’m ashamed to say) disappeared within seconds…
The chorizo with new potatoes and watercress arrived oozing delicious bright orange oil – a lovely dish which felt a little more like it belonged at a tapas restaurant than the great hulk of meat sat beside it – not that I’m complaining, that was one great steak.
There was one dish that filled my mind with question marks, however. Patatas Bravas. They were not patatas bravas. They were chips. Chips with a bravas dip, but chips nonetheless. Does patatas bravas mean chips? I’m not sure. I doubt it…They were good chips, but still, they were chips. The incident is still puzzling me, as you can see.
The verdict on Barrafina: I loved it. I really did. I’d go back tomorrow if the bank balance allowed it. Sadly it does not – tapas of this quality doesn’t come cheap. Admittedly we did overindulge on wine slightly but the bill came to around £70 per head. That is a lot for any meal, let alone tapas…but was it worth it? Most definitely.
La Tasca – hang your head in shame.
54 Frith Street,